December 13, 2009
I' look up out of the skylight in my living room and through the bird shit and dirt I see a solid sheet of grey and tiny drops of rain begin to speckle the panes. A cold December rain.
Yes winter approaches, and as it does I look forward with some trepidation, to the immaculate isolation I have no doubt it will afford me with here in Red Hook. Transportation IS an issue here. In Re Hook, I bike. To and from Red Hook, I bike. To Manhattan, I bike to the subway and then take the train.
The summer months here found me showering up to four times a day after each trip I took out of the apartment. There were entire days, literally when I would not wear a shirt. Living in a major metropolis, I take strange satisfaction in that and really feel it’s some kind of accomplishment.
The autumn was a bit better biking weather, but still somewhat frustrating. You bundle up against the cold wind and chill air and then sweat terribly after just a mile or two. It is, in essence, the equivalent of going to the gym and working out in semi-casual business attire- jacket and all. BUT at least I was mobile. I was not trapped by Mother Nature, unable to escape the boundaries of my neighborhood, as seems to be the case for the upcoming season.
I’ve never biked in the winter- never had to pedal through snow or brake on black ice. It seems dangerous. This does not mean I won’t be doing it shortly, but it may mean that I will only being doing it shortly. (For a short period of time, that is.) My bike is a death trap and a public menace as it is, and I feel I would be endangering lives if I were to venture out into the icy city streets in winter.
To elaborate: Just before moving to Red Hook this past July, I gave my old bike to my sister-in-law. It had been sitting in my parents’ garage since I graduated college and my brother asked me if she could have it. I knew I was moving and would need a bicycle, but I didn’t want to be like that dick kid on the playground that doesn’t seem to be interested in his old toys until he sees someone else reaching for it then shouts out, “No! Mine!” and plays with it until the other kid goes away. So I gave it to Melisa.
This left me without wheels for my first month or so in Red Hook. I borrowed my roommates’ bikes at every opportunity. Unfortunately, most of the ride fixed-gears and I would spend half the trip chasing the pedal around it’s revolution with my foot, trying to get it in the toe clip as it spun round its axis. I am not great with fixed-gears.
Thankfully, not long after, while visiting my grandfather, I found a bike in his basement. He wasn’t sure whom it belonged to but it looked like it had never been ridden. It was a 3-gear Royce-Union made in “West Germany.” There was no wear on the treads (though time had cracked through the aged rubber) and no dirt or mud-splash in the wheel wells. It’s like this bike had been hidden there for someone’s birthday 40 years ago and simply forgotten. It even had the classic RING RING! bicycle bell on the handle bars- the coup de grace.
I brought it back to Brooklyn and changed the tubes and tires and shined it up removing every bit of tarnish and rust with WD-40 and a toothbrush. I was truly proud of the results of my like-new vintage bike.
But, like a man unable to walk upon walking from a long coma, 40 years of convalescence can apparently have much the same effect on a bicycle as 40 years of usage, and as it began to deteriorate around me, I realized it might take more than the few crescent wrenches Pepere had lent me to fix it.
On my first and only bike-ride through Manhattan, my rear brakes were jarred off while riding down a cobblestone street in Tribeca. On that same trip, I began to hear an unsettling rattle and noticed that one of the screws that holds the rear wheel well in place had come off as well. This was more of an aesthetic and not functional nuisance, but it’s one that may be causing me to violate local noise ordinance.
The biggest problem with this stuff coming loose and falling off while I’m on the road is that I lose the screws and nuts and washers that would enable me to fix the bike. I’ve made a few trips to Lowe’s, but it’s virtually impossible to find correctly matching hardware for a 40 year old, West German screw
I did finally fix my rear brakes and two days later my front brakes broke. The knob at the end of the cable just came right out. So at least the timing was good. Slowly but surely the metal casing around the gear-shifter wire split and the crack grew winder and wider. Finally the cable, rather than pass through, would simply get stuck and so I am now perpetually in the most difficult gear, or “L” as the West Germans dubbed it.
Meanwhile, the seat, which was not on a welded post but a kind of threaded up/down swivel, would tilt violently backwards when I sat down, tossing my butt backwards to the point of falling off the bike. I finally tightened it beyond all human reason and now I only lean way back a bit uncomfortably and look as though my ass is being held up, suspended by a rope tied to my back belt loop.
Also, please keep in mind that this is a 40-year-old seat made of iron, springs, sewn together pieces of leather. While riding it one afternoon a month or two ago, the front half of the leather simply fell away, exposing my testicles, protected only by a thin layer of denim, to the harsh, cold, and rather narrow pointy iron seat below.
Oh. And my bell fell off.
So, unable to fix most of these problems for lack of tools or parts, I have been riding on a zombie or leper bike that, much like a zombie or a leper, continues to decay as I ride it. The strain on my rear brakes mounted and mounted- all those downhill red lights from Park Slope to Red Hook- and finally gave way. They broke. Interestingly, it wasn’t the brakes themselves that broke, it was the bolt that secures the brakes to the bike frame. Just snapped in half! Incredible!
While this setback may deter a more sensible person from using his bicycle, it is still my primary source of transportation. Having experienced the expedience and liberty afforded me by biking everywhere, I simply cannot go back to walking. It’s just too slow.
I have developed a good method of stopping, which I brought to near-perfection while my brakes slowly became less and less effective. It actually works quite well; better than my brakes did at least.
I thrust my right foot down onto the pavement and apply pressure to the ground with my hell. For the frequently needed extra oomph, I jam my left foot onto the pedal, which in turn jams the opposite pedal in my right calf, forcing the entire femur and foot down even harder, greatly increasing the friction and thusly my stopping power. I can go from 15 to 0 in about 6 seconds, provided I don’t hit a sand patch.
However, this brings me back to my main concern, which is about the foul weather that winter brings. I doubt my foot-dragging method of stopping will be nearly as effective when administered on snow and ice. And while I always wear a helmet (now ridiculously over a wool cap) and it would be comical to see a man slide helplessly through an intersection dragging his feet with all his might, apparently hijacked by a runaway bicycle, I’m afraid the reality of being hit by a car and staining the roadside snow bank red, would be a bit more grim than humorous.
So now, as I listen to the freezing rain and “wintry mix” hammering the skylight above me, I begin to prepare myself in earnest, mentally at least, for what will inevitably become a cold and secluded season, filled up by the long walks between civilization and the beautiful silent desolation of Red Hook in winter.